The drawdown in Iraq is pretty much complete and the withdrawal in Afghanistan is getting started. After 10 years of war, many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are coming home. But they are coming home to a decidedly smaller military force and some will be coming home to the military’s equivalent of a pink slip. Promotion rates are dwindling and the number of servicemembers being shown the proverbial door is rising.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve operated under the assumption that you’d be a military family until YOU decided (or your spouse decided) that you were done but that’s not how it is anymore. There is a LOT of uncertainty in the military these days. This is the first of a two-part look at getting out whether it’s by choice or not. First, we’ll look at how you can prepare for a possible separation. Even if it’s unlikely, it’s still a really good idea to be prepared.
Here are some steps you can take:
1. Establish or bulk up your emergency fund. Financial advisers will suggest that you have at least 3 months’ living expenses in your emergency fund. Given the current economic situation in this country, I’d recommend 6 months. That doesn’t mean that you have to have it tomorrow. Let’s say you have $1,000 in your savings account right now and you don’t regularly set savings aside. When the next pay period rolls around, see if you can set aside $100 or even $50. Sometimes the hardest part about anything is taking that first step.
2. Pay down any unsecured debt you may have. This is actually tied for #1. It doesn’t make any sense to earn 2% on the money you have sitting in your savings account if your $5,000 balance on your Visa is sucking 15% interest out of your checking account. Sell some things (Craigslist! eBay! Yard sale!), revisit your budget and cut back on the things you can stand to give up (cable TV, 1 dinner out per month, unlimited data on your cell phone), look into other sources of income (side jobs, babysitting, etc.) and do what you can to ditch that debt as quickly as possible.
3. Add income. As I mentioned in the point above, bringing in extra income is a great way to help pay down debt and add to your emergency fund. As we faced the possibility of my husband getting out of the Army, he and I both started looking for ways to bring in extra monies: watching a friend’s children (me), doing some basic editing on written works (me), doing basic maintenance on friends’ cars (him), recovering data from a failed hard drive (him), selling plasma (us), picking up odd jobs at our church (us). Many times, it’s just a matter of talking to people and seeing what they need and then offering your services. Maybe you like to sew and someone has a few pairs of jeans that need repair – I’d be willing to pay $20 to have my jeans fixed! You can sell stuff too – is there a bookstore in your area that buys used books? I’ve made anywhere from $20 to $65 selling off some of our old books and homeschool curricula.
4. Increase your job skills. Is there a local class you can take to learn how to use Excel (often libraries and community centers will offer these. And there’s always the Education Center on post.) or other computer programs? Does the community college in your area offer low-cost classes in areas that you or your spouse might be interested? If so, you might want to consider taking one. The skills and connections you make now may make the transition easier down the road.
5. Dust off that resume. Even if you’re not really facing the possibility of getting out, it’s a good idea (for you as well as your spouse) to keep your resume up to date. You or your spouse may not need it for a while but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. The education center will often have people that can help retool a resume. Other spouses in your area might also be able to help get a resume in working order. The internet is always a wonderful resource and there are plenty of free websites out there with helpful information.
The best thing you can do in these uncertain times is to be proactive. Don’t wait for bad news to hit to get things in order. Do it now while you have the time and you’ll save yourself headaches down the road.
Next up: You’re getting out…now what?